I was doing a bit of reading last night, in an attempt to fill insomnia time with something that makes it seem less like insomnia and more like productivity or entertainment. The book is one I am almost ashamed to be reading, because its pages are covered with philosophies of giving = getting, and those philosophies almost always include a measure of victim-blaming and exclude concepts of systemic or institutional factors and their influence upon one’s current situation. So, I usually get annoyed with such philosophies quite quickly, and sometimes I even get really angry with these types of books—yelling at no person in particular about the ways that my bed was not made alone, so no, I don’t have to “lie in it” unless those who victimized me have to lie in a bed far worse. (The number of times I have been told that I made my own bed, and should now lie in it makes me shudder.)
What I gave to the universe was NOT equal to what I received. Innocence and autonomy lost at a young age cannot be blamed on the innocent who do not choose their victimization. Did I make some unsavory choices in my lifetime? Absolutely. But did I make them without any influence of childhood trauma? No, I did not.
I gave the universe love and empathy and kindness and creativity and beauty. It gave me a lot of terrible crap in return.
But, I kept reading the book with the really messed up philosophy of giving = getting, because the thing it kept saying I needed to give and receive was love. And as I read, it occurred to me that at certain points and in particular situations, I have stopped giving love. The reason I stopped giving it, was likely because I wasn’t seeing a return on my investment, and because I have complex PTSD and suffer from chronic pain and am an addict and have all these reasons that the world became a place that hurts you, and not one that loves in return. So, my choice to be mistrusting and build walls and shove my earbuds in my ears and blast Kesha instead of listening to my seatmate on the bus is a valid one, considering all the aforementioned reasons. But, it isn’t getting me what I want. And, let’s face it, what I want is what every being on the planet wants: LOVE.
The challenge for someone who has been so deeply wounded that the scars will never heal is to continue to offer love and trust and vulnerability, even after doing so created the conditions for your wounding to happen. When you offer someone your trust, and they betray it, or when you offer your vulnerable self, and someone takes advantage of that and uses your openness to harm you, it makes it really difficult to keep offering up your heart and mind and body to another—hoping that by some miracle this time is different and that this offering of your heart doesn’t add brokenness upon brokenness.
In some ways, we should never expect victims to trust again. In many situations, the one who has been wronged should never give pardon and should never offer another the chance to wrong them in a similar manner. Why should they?
The answer, again, is love.
Love is the reason I give pardon for past offenses. But, that hasn’t put me, in some automatic fashion, back into a space where I can receive love with ease. Because I try very hard to protect myself from further injury. And that protection requires shutting people out and keeping people at a distance and creating walls and not opening up too quickly.
A friend once told me that I was not vulnerable. And I was shocked by that statement, because I have been candid about my struggles for many years. I feel like I share readily with people. And I do share my story, but I do not share myself. I don’t put my heart where it can be harmed. My story doesn’t need to tell about the ways I feel vulnerable today. I can offer a history without opening myself to others. And that was the distinction that my friend was seeking to make. He wanted me to understand that I couldn’t be known and loved if I had an alligator-filled moat around my heart.
I’ve improved a bit at letting people into that space. The drawbridge goes down for my dad, and for my friend Luke, and for my daughter. But, as time passes and I read books with terrible philosophies that tell me I get what I give, I realize that there is a tiny crumb of truth to the chapter that tells me I am not receiving what I am not giving. Because I cannot expect love and trust and vulnerability from another if I won’t offer it to them as well. And maybe one of the challenges to opening up is that I want the other to do it first, but their wounded parts want me to open up first—we do a dance of waiting and hoping and not receiving because neither of us wants to open up a space where a sword strike might land. We all wait to remove our armor until the other has removed theirs. And that gets none of us any closer to the love and trust and vulnerability that is required to further the relationship (be that a friendship or a familial tie or a marriage or whatever).
Yesterday, I was talking with my dad and said that my website seemed aptly named when I started posting online. I really thought that I was learning to be whole. But now I am realizing that I instead need to accept that I am broken, and that I might continue to break, so I ought to have chosen a website named “accepting that I am broken”. He and I both, as though it had been practiced, said at once “Maybe, accepting the broken is how you learn to be whole.” And I believe that may be the crux of the matter. I need to accept breaking as a part of offering love. And I need to acknowledge that offering love first is the best and fastest way to connect to others and to receive love in return.
I will get a few jabs from the protections (or even weapons) of others in the process. I may increase my scars. But, I will also be in a position to encourage others to let down their defenses if I have already dropped mine.
So, “Vulnerability” goes on the list of things I am working to improve. And the shameful book of giving love to get more of it will probably be read to completion in a first attempt at finding the vulnerable self hidden deep beneath my strength and intellect and independence and lack of eye contact and background noise-removing earbuds. I won’t paint a target on my chest. But I will try to lower my sword, at the very least. And hopefully, that won’t injure too much, and I can move on to removing one more bit of protection and psychological isolation.
I anticipate that this process will take years. I’m heavily guarded. But, it is a step in the right direction, I am sure, so I am committed to heading down that path.
I know that honesty begets honesty. I know that trust begets trust. I know that openness begets openness. I even wrote a paper on such connections in an undergraduate communications course. But, for some reason (or for many valid and obvious reasons) I stopped believing that love begets love. It does. It doesn’t always and instantaneously, but it will eventually bring you love in return.
So, here is a start at being open: I don’t have enough love in my life. I’m deeply wounded, in ways I am afraid to express, because many people in my past have shut me out rather than deal with the depth and breadth of my pain. All the times I have allowed that pain to surface and become evident, people rejected me, avoided me, or insinuated I was some form of “crazy”. But, I am trying very hard not to let the response of those people be shaped in my mind as the normative response to pain. I am trying very hard not to let others shame me for expressing my suffering. I am cutting out of my life the people that are gangrenous and make my wounds deeper and more affecting. But, to the rest of you, I am going to try to open myself up and let down defenses.
This blog might get uglier before it becomes more beautiful as a result.
No amount of good grammar can make what ails me seem like entertaining prose. Some of it—much of it—is a horror story. But, I’m going to start letting it be such, and not sugar-coating struggle in ways that I believed protected me from harm. I can’t be protected from what was. But I can look with hope at what is yet to come. And I refuse to believe that my story is a tragedy. There will be a happy ending, but before that happy end, I need to find my way to vulnerability, and unceasing love … an epic goal, so maybe my life is an epic tale. I like that idea. I think I shall embrace my life as an epic story, with a glorious end yet to be written. In the end, as with most epic tales, the main character finds love and peace and good, so I will embrace those, and perhaps emulating them will actually bring them nearer.
I hope I haven’t just agreed to the terrible philosophies of giving = getting. But, I will at least admit to believing that proximity to good brings about more good. In the moments when all seems lost, there is a good guide, or a good friend to carry you forward, or some good to fight for after a rallying, inspiring speech. I need to start finding ways to trust in the good. I need to find ways to start believing in love, once more. And one way to believe in it, is to give it.
So, here I stand, ready to give more love. I’ll let you know what I get in return.